Getting to know… Stanislas Wawrinka
Friday, May 30, 2008
By Benjamin Adler
Content to live in the shadow of Roger Federer, Stanislas Wawrinka is finally being rewarded for his patience. Now No10 in the world, Stan finds himself in the third round of Roland Garros. The best is yet to come…
The Wawrinka’s are a discreet clan, both in victory and in defeat. Their family home lies deep in the countryside in the Vaud region, and it is in this idyll that Stan grew up. “He has the grounding influence of the Vaud region in him. He does things at his own pace, with a lot of good sense. His progression has been slow, but relentless,” explains Christian Despont, a journalist from Swiss newspaper “Le Temps”.
Roland Garros, first revelation
The grandson of Czech immigrants, Wawrinka made his first tentative racquet strokes at the age of eight, and since then has always done things his way, bit by bit, staying true to himself. His coach, Dimitri Zavialoff, a family friend, has been there since the very beginning. After his first serious injury (torn ligaments) just before a Davis Cup match in February 2007, those around him started to ask questions. Should the prodigal son who, the year before comparing himself to his friend Federer, described himself as “the Swiss loser”, get a new coach? Did he need a new perspective? Not a chance – Stan sticks to what he knows.
And it has paid off. The epitome of patience, humility and hard work, he is now enjoying the fruits of his dedication. Since reaching the final of the Masters Series in Rome, he has moved into the top ten, without the help of the Swiss Federation, and is gradually emerging from Federer’s shadow. “In Switzerland nobody except the real specialists even saw him coming. He only was only noticed when he won the Juniors at Roland Garros in 2003,” according to a Swiss colleague.
"The natural way to go"
A professional since 2002, Wawrinka had been whipping up a storm on the Satellite circuit since he was 15. “It was the natural way to go,” he says in hindsight. That same year, the teenager left the school he had been at for all his academic life, the Rudolf Steiner College.
“Stan the Man” spent his winters in Spain honing his game. In 2004 he competed in his first Challenger tournament. The following year, again at Roland Garros but this time in the main draw, he reached the third round.
A relationship in the spotlight
“He doesn’t speak German and as there’s Roger, the Swiss German media aren’t all that interested in him. He’s a lot more popular with the French-speaking media but still not as much as his ranking deserves,” says one journalist whose speciality is “Wawrinkiness”. His relationship with a famous Swiss-German speaking lady is helping to move him into the spotlight, but Stan is not interested in that. He enjoys the material perks of his job, but has no time for the glitz and glamour.
Finalist in Doha at the beginning of the season, Wawrinka reached the fourth round of the US Open in 2007. His rise in the rankings can be attributed to a team which has been devoted to him since 2003, a team which includes Pierre Paganini, Federer’s physical trainer, which explains all those trips to Dubai alongside the world No1.
Texts from Rodge
Painfully shy, Stan is not the type of person to boast about his relationship with the Swiss superstar. “I think we’re friends,” he says admitting that “Rodge” texts him before important matches and gives him help and advice when asked.
More than happy to live in Federer’s shadow, Stan needed to chase away his tennis and mental demons before he was finally able to move up to the next level. “If I win matches now, it’s because I’ve accepted that I need to fight with what I have when things aren’t going well,” he says. I’ve accepted that I need to change so that I won’t end up being frustrated.”
“He still lacks confidence in himself, particularly when he’s on the verge of creating an upset. But that might change with his new status. He might become more aware of his ability,” confides a close friend. In the meantime, others already see him differently. “Since I’ve become a top ten player, I feel that my opponents are more nervous against me and treat me with more respect. Then there are some that are more relaxed when they play me because they haven’t much got to lose,” confirms Wawrinka, who is no longer the Swiss player who loses.